OTA Students Make Every Moment Count

Group Working with Mental health in Elementary Schools

Students in Kent State Ashtabula’s Associate of Applied Science degree program for Occupational Therapy Assistant (OTA) are developing and implementing ‘Every Moment Counts’ (EMC) program as part of their first fieldwork experience and creating the necessary EMC toolkit materials for Ashtabula city schools.

Every Moment Counts is a 6-week program that aims to help children and youth become mentally healthy in order to succeed in school, at home, and in their community.  It is viewed as a perfect fit for students preparing for a career in Occupational Therapy. OT is a health rehabilitation profession that uses creative and engaging activities, as treatment, to help people of all ages perform the skills they need to live as independently as possible in all walks (occupations) of their life; in their home, in school, in their community, and in their work.

Janine Ricketts MS OTR/L, occupational therapy lecturer at Kent State Ashtabula, says, “It is very important to make that connection in the community when there is a need. The program has been very successful within the Ashtabula schools that participated, and we now have an open invitation to show up at those schools anytime — no call ahead necessary.” 

Ricketts’ OTA students initially started the EMC program in a joint venture with St. Johns (K-12) in Ashtabula as a service-learning initiative, and they are now expanding to surrounding area schools. Focusing primarily on grades 2-4, OTA students are developing and emphasizing EMC strategies to help children authentically enjoy and participate in their school throughout the day. Their work focuses on reframing mental health as a positive state of being which is associated with feeling good emotionally and doing well functionally in everyday life. For the children, this means doing well during academic periods (classroom) as well as nonacademic (recess, lunch, afterschool extracurricular activities) times of the school day. 

Both Ricketts and Academic Fieldwork Coordinator, Megan Shumaker OT/L have been asked to co-write a chapter section about OTA students as “change leaders” using EMC in a new OTA textbook which will be published in the near future.

EMC’s guiding principle is that simple gestures make a big difference. Principals saying 'hi' in the hallway and greeting students by name; teachers enjoying lunch in the cafeteria with the students and starting conversations; having fun but organized play during recess rather than kids standing around not knowing what to do; students learning how to talk to their peers and how to be helpful rather than hurtful . . .  these skills can go a long way in helping children feel positive about themselves, be more successful in class, and enjoy their school and home life.

The Ashtabula OTA students introduce the EMC programs that have catchy names such as “Refreshing Recess” and “Comfortable Cafeteria” which give real-life direction and suggestions on ways for the kids and their teachers to improve their interactions and experiences, which in turn enhances relationships and dialogue amongst their peers and their teachers.

They have weekly themes such as Let’s make friends and play together where students engage in a friendship scavenger hunt and Let’s respect differences and include everybody where the children play a game of Magic Tag, and the supervisors/teachers learn to promote inclusion. On the Let’s make sure Everyone has Fun day, the kids participate in an untying knots game and other unique activities, and the teachers learn about bully prevention. In contrast, negative interactions and experiences (e.g., being told to eat lunch in silence, being yelled at during recess, being teased by peers) can lead to negative and unhappy feelings which leave children and teachers feeling disconnected and unhappy. 

EMC has been a huge success in Ashtabula schools, and teachers and students have seen a significant improvement not only in their academic progress but in their general outlook on life.

Lisa Newsome, principal at Ontario Primary in Ashtabula, says, “The program was outstanding. The Kent Occupational Therapy students were so well prepared – every week they had a new and exciting program set up and ready to go. The kids and teachers loved it when they came, and all of us want them to come back.” She adds that “These children are at such a vulnerable age, and to have this extra support for them is invaluable. So often, teachers must focus primarily on academics and testing, but with this program, not only are they learning amazing skills, they are having a great time doing it!”

While EMC in local schools is a new program, the concept itself is centuries old. The Athenian philosopher Plato argued that the task of a sound education was to teach young people to find pleasure in the right things.  Psychologist Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi expounded on those teachings and the notion that “If children enjoyed math, they would learn math. If they enjoyed helping friends, they would grow into helpful adults. If they enjoyed life, they would take greater pains to protect it."  (Csikszentmihalyi, M. (1993). Activity and happiness: Towards a science of occupation. Occupational Science: Australia, 1, 38–42. )
Kent OTA students are following that age-old philosophy. Having and utilizing EMC as a resource — meeting the needs in the community — seeing healthier happier kids, equals a win-win-win for all.  

It makes every moment count.

About Every Moment Counts
Every Moment Counts (EMC) is a mental health initiative that was developed in 2011 by Occupational Therapists in the Greater Cleveland area with Dr. Susan Bazyk, Ph.D. OTR/L. Mental health is an integral part of overall health, and studies show that children and youth who have positive interactions and experience well-being will gain self-confidence and will function better, not only in school and at home, but will continue this positive behavior in their life as they get older. https://everymomentcounts.org/. 

About Occupational Therapy
Occupational therapists, like most health professionals, learn to work well within a team; Certified occupational therapist assistants (COTA’s) work with many other professionals including physicians, physical therapists, and social workers in the rehabilitation of patients. 
They assist with the evaluation and treatment of individuals, old and young, with injuries, illnesses, cognitive impairments, psychosocial dysfunctions, mental illness, developmental or learning disabilities, physical disabilities, or other disorders or conditions.

Occupational therapy assistants enjoy careers in hospitals, schools, nursing and residential treatment facilities, community mental health centers, job training centers, home healthcare agencies, and Federal and State government jobs in Department of Defense, Public Health, and Service Veterans Health Administration. Pursuing higher education of a master’s (MOT, MA, MS) or doctoral degree opens up jobs in Universities and colleges.
OT’s generally earn a $55,270 median wage. 

About the OTA program at Kent State Ashtabula
The A.A.S. degree in Occupational Therapy Assistant Technology at Kent Ashtabula is accredited by the American Occupational Therapy Association (AOTA) and the Accreditation Council for Occupational Therapy Education (ACOTE).
Visit  https://www.kent.edu/ashtabula/ocat. 

POSTED: Monday, April 22, 2019 - 12:25pm
UPDATED: Monday, April 22, 2019 - 12:33pm
Karen Wiese, Kent State Ashtabula Communications and Marketing Intern